February 1, 2013

 

Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohammed Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak

 

Dear Prime Minister Najib: 

We are writing to you to again raise serious concerns about your government’s forced return—refoulement—of Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic minority, to China. We are especially concerned about the fate of six Uighurs forcibly returned to China in December and other Uighurs currently in Malaysian government custody who may face similar violations of their basic rights.

The Chinese government frequently accuses Uighurs, particularly those seeking asylum, of being terrorists or separatists without providing evidence to substantiate such claims. The Chinese government’s definition of “terrorism” and “separatism” in relation to Uighurs encompasses peaceful expression that is protected under international and domestic Chinese law.  Human Rights Watch and other organizations have documented in detail abuses against Uighurs. We have also documented past instances in which Malaysia deported individuals seeking asylum to countries where they had well-founded fears of being persecuted or tortured, such as the return of Hamza Kashgari to Saudi Arabia in February 2012, where he awaits trial on charges of apostasy, which can result in a death sentence.

In the past three years, Human Rights Watch has documented an increasing number of occasions in which a number of governments, including Malaysia, have acted in violation of the customary international law prohibition against refoulement, as well as in contravention of domestic law and procedures, by forcibly returning to China Uighurs who have sought asylum or who have been prevented from lodging refugee claims. In August 2011, for example, your government returned at least 11 Uighurs in violation of international law. These individuals were given no opportunity to challenge their deportation. According to media reports, one individual who was deported despite having been in Malaysia legally has now been sentenced to six years in prison on charges of alleged “separatism.” There is little information regarding the fate of the other 10 and possibly more individuals. We have received no reply from your government to our August 22, 2011 letter on this subject. 

We write now to express concern about a similar incident in December 2012.  According to our sources, Malaysia deported six Uighur men back to China on December 31. The six had been detained earlier in 2012, allegedly for attempting to leave Malaysia on false passports.  While in detention, these six men were registered with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and were permitted to proceed with refugee status determination (RSD) interviews.  Although all six had asylum claims under review for first instance decisions, Malaysian police transferred the men in late December into the custody of Chinese authorities, who escorted them from Malaysia to China on a chartered flight.  No further information has been made available to us. We believe this forcible return of asylum seekers constitutes an act of refoulement, violating Malaysia’s international legal obligations.

We are concerned that these six men were part of a larger group of Uighurs detained by Malaysian authorities. We wish to request information from you on the status and whereabouts of any other members of this larger group who may still be in Malaysian detention.  

We have raised our grave concerns with the Chinese government about their repeated actions to pressure other governments, particularly in Asia, to summarily return Uighurs without affording them due process rights, including the right to seek asylum.  We note that some other governments have taken more positive steps to strengthen protections afforded to Uighurs and others from Chinaseeking refugee status.

We urge that the government of Malaysia take immediate steps to clarify the details of the December 2012 incident, and publicly reiterate its commitment to respecting international law and procedures in all refugee and asylum cases. Malaysia should also sign and ratify 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol as well as the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  These actions would formalize Malaysia’s existing obligation under customary international law not to return people to places where they would likely face persecution or torture.

We thank you for your consideration of this very important matter. We look forward to learning what actions you have taken in this regard.

Sincerely,                                           

 

Bill Frelick

Director

Refugee Program

 

Sophie Richardson

China Director

Asia Division